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BMW GS650: Still trail-blazing

2011-05-22 14:42


STILL RADICAL: The same radical good looks are there on the 2011 BMW G650GS as found 30 years ago, when the range was first shown to the public.

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer BMW
Model G650GS
Engine Single-cylinder, 652cc, liquid-cooled
Power 35kW at 6500rpm
Torque 60Nm at 5000rpm
Transmission Five-speed, O-ring sealed chain
Zero To Hundred Six seconds
Top Speed 170km/h
Fuel Tank 18 litres
Weight 188kg
ABS Option
Price R73 000
I well remember when the BMW GS650 first hit the showrooms 30 years ago. I was living in Pietermaritzburg and had just brought my R69S in for a service and tune-up.

Eddie George, gentleman that he was, suggested I trade in my boring old two-stroke bike and buy one of the ultra-modern looking GS offerings - it was radical back then, but even today it still has the futuristic good looks to find buyers for another 30 years, I reckon.

Deciding to hang on to my old 600cc Beemer was probably a mistake but I loved that bike. It was already 22 years old but had never missed a beat - unlike some of the British bikes* to be found in the far end of my garage and in dire need of a minor rebuild before I could even confidently contemplate a 100km Sunday morning ride.


But that’s the rub with BMW bike owners, once they’ve sampled the brand they rarely stray far from the blue propeller.

You might be surprised to learn that the marque recently manufactured its two-millionth GS bike, quite a milestone in anyone’s book, but one that comes easily to BMW.

This latest model is badged G650 GS to differentiate it as the latest and greatest. I’m glad very little has changed; the radical looks are still there for all to see - the old adage about “not changing anything unless there’s a good reason” rings very true, it seems.

The suspension of the new G650 GS was developed primarily for running on country roads and takes the form of an agile chassis with a bridge frame of steel tubing and a bolt-on framework tail that has already seen excellent service on the earlier BMW F650 GS.

The ‘G’ nomenclature still denotes this is a single-cylinder machine; it’s still a water-cooled, four-stroke 652cc engine that develops 35kW at 6500rpm and 60Nm of torque at 5000rpm. It might not seem particularly powerful on paper but such is the gearing and the typical manner of being able to “hang on to the cable” means the bike will take you into serious speed ticket territory in no time.

The close-ratio, five-speed gearbox is still the preferred box of tricks for this particular BMW.


Thanks to twin-spark ignition and electronic fuel injection, the high compression ratio of 11.5:1 and a closed-loop catalytic converter, this tried and tested single-cylinder engine still offers maximum levels of riding pleasure as we’ve come to expect down the years. According to BMW it can give exemplary low consumption values of, by way of example, only 3.2 litres/100km at a constant 90km/h.

ONE OF A KIND: Anti-lock brakes, taller windscreen, a new-look binnacle and cast magnesium wheels set the new BMW G650GS apart from the crowd.

The G650 GS is most definitely well-suited as an excellent commuter bike but it can most certainly double-up as a mild dirt bike when the urge is called for. The Highveld test route I was party to allowed for about 25% of the trip to be covered on severely pot-holed dirt tracks and the bike managed it well enough. (To be entirely honest, I felt sorry for the poor guy who was going to have to clean the beautiful mag wheels when we returned!)

Those cast magnesium rims now fitted (diameter front 19”, rear 17”) to the GS are probably the most noticeable difference aesthetically but BMW would also like to tell you that the headlight is now doubled up and far more powerful - that and the fact that she’s also far more economical than ever before…

I’d rather tell you about the excellent anti-lock brakes fitted to the bike; yes, an extra-cost option, but a really worthwhile one because the rider can switch it off on gravel roads where you really don’t want them annoyingly trying to stop your rate of progress every time you need them.

The other feature well worth mentioning in this brief report is the three seat heights available: standard 780mm, low-slung 750mm (as optional factory-fitted equipment), high seat (black) 820mm. In the confidence stakes there’s nothing like riding a bike on which you can have your feet flat on the ground when stationary - especially if you’re vertically challenged!


I didn’t spot it right away but the binnacle ahead of the rider is completely new: analogue speedometer and a liquid crystal display with digital tachometer. This LCD also presents additional information, such as the kilometres travelled, two trip distance meters and the time.

For indicators, high beam, idling, fuel reserve, ABS and engine temperature, the LCD presents a clear arrangement to the right of the round instrument. In addition, simple and safe handling is ensured by new, lean, multifunctional switches operated like conventional indicators.

*I wonder if my local BMW dealer is interested in an elderly Model 7 Norton I’ve got lying around as a deposit! Ah well, probably not.

Priced from R73 000 for the non-ABS model, but I reckon the better option if you can manage it is to shell out R81 272 when ABS, heatable grips, a centre stand, 12V cellphone socket etc become part of the deal.

A two-year unconditional guarantee comes with both versions.

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